The mid-sixties was an incredibly busy time for Wayne Shorter
, who in 1965 had transitioned out of being Art Blakey
's musical director into serving more or less the same roll for Miles Davis
. By that point, he already had three Vee-Jay and two Blue Note leader dates under his belt and, in '65, he went on to record three more headliners on Blue NoteThe Soothsayer
and The All-Seeing Eye
Only the somewhat avant-garde Eye
was released at the time, with Soothsayer
waiting fifteen years to see the light of day. Both were strong sessions, but they weren't released in 1965 because Blue Note was trying to stay in business (an almost impossible task for a jazz-oriented label at the best of times), and quite rightly estimated that the public wasn't ready to snap up three releases by Shorter in one calendar year. That said, it is gratifying that the tapes were saved and released when the market was ready. Not every label's legacy has been preserved with such care.
Of the two sessions held back, Etcetera
was by far the stronger, and it reappears in deluxe guise as part of Blue Note's "Tone Poet" series of vinyl reissues. For this series, the plastic is heavy weight, the mastering chain analog, and the price a spouse-depressing thirty-five dollars.
Given that Shorter had been cranking out tunes for Blakey and Davis (ESP
also dropped in 1965), and his previous Blue Note releases had been stuffed with originals as well, it is little short of amazing that he kept up his prolific compositional pace in the years leading up to his semi-retirement as a tunesmith when he joined Weather Report
features four Shorter tunes, (the most memorable of which, the ballad "Penelope," reappears as the up-tempo "El Gaucho" on Adam's Apple
), along with a Gil Evans song from the play "Time of the Barracudas."
The songs here tend to be built of simple, but musically sturdy, gestures; the album thrives on its superb group interaction and soloing. Etcetera
is one of Shorter's darker sessions, and the intensity and focus of the musicians keeps the long performances compelling throughout. There's not a weak track in the bunch, but the final tune, "Indian Song," is the highlight. Cecil McBee
's hypnotically repeated ostinato in 5/4 anchors things, and the head builds, ratcheting tension that blossoms as the performance unfolds. The group is fully committed to the mood throughout, with Herbie Hancock
's playing uncannily creative (he was in an especially sweet spot for this album and All Seeing Eye
). "Indian Song" by itself makes this album one of Shorter's unmissable dates.
Of course, the album has been available since 1980, so you've had plenty of chances not to miss it. Is this gold-plated analog edition worth the moola? Always a subjective question. The vinyl is dead quiet (as it should be at this price) and the musicians appear with the kind of solidity and presence that other formats can struggle to reproduce. The biggest benefit of the remaster is Joe Chambers
, whose powerful, intelligent drumming is rendered with a clarity and snap that digital has difficulty matching. For those committed to the vinyl cult, the rendering of his cymbal work alone could make this a must buy.
The jacket is a gatefold, with black and white photos of the musicians from the label's capacious store of images. It's beautifully done, but those with bulging shelves might wonder if the artwork justifies the album's double-width profile. The only oddity is that the timings of all the songs are misprinted on the label. It is a silly mistake to make, but unless you are a particularly OCD collector it won't bother you much.
Whatever the format, if the music of Wayne Shorter has ever touched you before, be sure to audition Etcetera
before you shuffle off this mortal coil. It is one of the lesser known, but most rewarding, dates of his Blue Note salad days.
Etcetera; Penelope; Toy Tune; Barracudas (General Assembly); Indian Song.
Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock: piano; Cecil McBee: bass; Joe Chambers: